It was yesterday that I gave a talk on climate at a meeting in Florence. It was a rather formal meeting, in the "Aula Magna" of the University of Florence, and my talk was part of a multidisciplinary series of lectures. I gave my talk to a public mainly composed of faculty members, although only some of them were physical scientists.
It was not a specialized talk, but I tried to explain the basic elements of what we know about the earth's climate. How more than a hundred years of research has led to developing a new understanding of what makes climate change. I said that it is a true scientific revolution, on a par with several others as - say - cosmology; linking to a talk given just before by a colleague.
I showed data about how, over the geological eras, greenhouse gases have been the main element (although not the only one) determining the earth's surface temperature. And I showed how temperatures are rapidly rising now as a result of human-generated carbon emissions. I described the risks we are facing, and the importance of acting as soon as possible. And I showed my own work on modeling the energy transition to renewables.
And that was it. I received some applause, then the conference went on. Later on, there was the coffee break; the speakers and the public collected in the open air, in the courtyard of the University's central building. And, there, someone, a colleague, patted me on the shoulder. He smiled at me and he said, "See, Ugo, how cold is it today? Don't you think we need some global warming?"
Sometimes, I have lost my temper in these occasions. And they tell me that when I truly lose my temper I am not nice - which I think it is the way things should be. This time, however, I just smiled and I moved onward. But words were ringing in my head, "an idiot is an idiot is an idiot", something that Gertrude Stein could have said hadn't she been thinking of roses, instead.
You could say, "it was just a joke." Yes, but imagine that you were a surgeon, and you gave a talk at a conference on - say - childhood cancer. Then, at the coffee break, a colleague of yours pats on your shoulder and says, "See how many children are there? Isn't it good that some are killed by tumors?"
An idiot is an idiot is an idiot. The problem is that there isn't just one of them.